Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Islam, Politics, and Jocelyne Cesari

By Silas

Jocelyne Cesari is a scholar and professor who has taught at prestigious universities and written articles and books on Islamic topics. Recently CNN published her article in support of the Ground-Zero mosque, “Islam is a religion, not a terror ideology.”

Cesari states that the opposition’s real motivation against the mosque extends beyond the “hallowed ground” argument; it is based upon security concerns and doubts about Islam’s compatibility with the West:

But because many Westerners associate Islam with al Qaeda, Palestinian militant groups and Iranian theocracy, they have a constricted, one-dimensional view of a faith that is multifaceted and complex.

Her statement, “a faith that is multifaceted and complex,” means that not all Muslims are theocracy loving, violent, hard-core radicals and that there are varieties of Islam that eschew violence. She’s correct. Unfortunately, her engagement in the critical violence-in-Islam discussion ends there. The varieties of Islam that eschew violence, especially in their doctrines, are few and weak. It is these violent doctrines of Islam that bear scrutiny. Instead of addressing what she identifies as the critic’s real concern, i.e. the violent doctrines of Islam, she overlooks them, pretending they don’t exist.

You’ll notice that most of the liberal pundits who write about Islam avoid these doctrines because they undermine the “Islam is a peaceful faith” argument. That argument cannot be defended when Islam’s doctrines are brought into the discussion; consequently they are ignored.

But Cesari does attack the statements of the mosque opposition:

Another trait shared by anti-Islamic movements on both sides of the Atlantic is that they increasingly justify their opposition by arguing that Islam is not a religion.

She later asks: “Why is Islam no longer considered a religion?

Cesari ignores the context of the “not a religion” statement and takes the mosque-opponent’s statements out of context and builds a strawman argument, i.e. that people are arguing that Islam is not a religion.

Yes, various people state that Islam “is not a religion.” Even ex-Muslims state “Islam is not a religion.” But usually these people are not denying that Islam has a spiritual or religious component, but rather that Islam is much more than what many people define simply as “religion”, i.e. a faith that focuses upon simple personal spirituality, self-enlightenment, or individual prayer and meditation. These critics of Islam are actually affirming that Islam is multifaceted and complex but not in the way Cesari wants them to.

Islam is a communal faith and in that it differs from the common Western understanding of religion which is individual-centered. (The independent, “rugged American individual” concept has actually polluted the intended communal, or semi-communal, aspects of Christianity and has produced a weak American church.)

Islam defines and mandates communal rules and regulations. Its scope covers politics, violence, and social norms. These features lead to Western doubts and concerns, particularly those related to violence, treatment of women, and freedom of religion. These are the contentions an accurate and thorough scholar would address. Instead Cesari, in lazy fashion, fabricates a sham argument because it is easily knocked down.

She attacks Geert Wilders as saying that Islam is a political ideology and implies that he is wrong. Does Cesari claim that there is no component of political ideology in Islam? Anyone who’s gone to the level of an Islam 102 class would know better.

Islam, as a religion, is political through and through and its faith mandates that a man function as a geo-political / religious ruler known as the Caliph. The Quran references such a ruler. Here is a definition for “caliph” from Mir’s “Dictionary of Quranic Terms and Concepts:”

II. Political Concept. Elsewhere (in the Quran), the word “caliph” is used to denote a political ruler, as in 7:69, 74, and 38:26, through the moral notion of vicegerency is not excluded, as can be seen from 10:14, which describes moral trial as the purpose of investing a people with caliphate.1, 2

From the establishment of the Muslim community in Yathrib (Medina) onward, politics were critical to Islam. In Medina Muhammad functioned as the supreme ruler over the Muslims and over the non-Muslims in Muslim-controlled territory. Following Muhammad’s death the Islamic world was ruled politically by a succession of Caliphs. Politics was, is, and shall remain, part and parcel of Islam.

Of course various books of Islamic theology and jurisprudence discuss Islamic political themes, the Caliphate, and the role of the Caliph. For example the “Reliance of the Traveller,” section o25, “The Caliphate,” pages 638 - 647, provides a review of the subject of the Caliph. This reviews covers the necessity of the Islamic world having a Caliph, (c.f. Quran 4:59), the qualifications for a Caliph, the obligation of Muslims to obey the Caliph, etc.3

Cesari also criticizes Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, quoting him to illustrate her point that people are saying Islam is not a religion:

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, in his failed gubernatorial bid, suggested that the freedom of religion enshrined in the First Amendment might not apply to Muslims. "You could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, a cult," the Republican candidate told an audience in Murfreesboro.

If Cesari had bothered surfing the web for a couple of minutes she would find Islamic websites that proclaim proudly “Islam is not a religion, it is a way of life!” (e.g., here and here).

If Muslims are allowed to make that statement about their faith then surely non-Muslims can make the same statement!

Of course when Muslims say, “Islam is not a religion it is a way of life” they are not saying that Islam is not a religion, but rather it is more than just a simple, “spiritual only” religion. In fact, these Muslims, and non-Muslims like Ron Ramsey, imply that Islam is multifaceted and complex BECAUSE it encompasses social, economic, military, and political, etc. aspects. Again, these Muslims and non-Muslims are affirming Islam is a complex faith, but not the way that Cesari wants them to. If Muslims can make the same use of context when talking accurately about their faith shouldn’t critics be extended the same courtesy?

Islam is multifaceted and declares rules and regulations for a variety of subjects. Here are some examples:

  • politics (attacks upon, subjection, and extortion/taxation of Christians and Jews – Quran 9:29, 30),
  • marital activities (sexual positions – Quran 2:222),
  • relationships between the sexes (men’s superiority – Quran 4:34),
  • economics (the prices for slaves and horses (various hadith)),
  • eating habits (eat with your right hand (various hadith)),
  • dress (men aren’t supposed to wear silk or gold (various hadith)),
  • freedom of religion (apostates are to be killed (implied in the Quran, stated explicitly in various hadith))


Yes, indeed Islam is a multifaceted faith, but the critics are concerned that not all facets are equal or have the same impact! Muslims who have attacked and conquered non-Muslims have shaped much of our modern history. Muhammad and the early Muslims attacked the non-Muslim tribes in Arabia and subjected them. After Muhammad’s death, the Muslim leaders who knew Muhammad and his wishes best, made war upon the Persian empire, conquered them, and treated the Persians brutally. Muslims attacked Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and conquered them. Later Muslims attacked North Africa, Spain, southern France, the Indo-subcontinent, and western China, and conquered them. This real Islam brutalized and oppressed those it subjected. These lands did not wholeheartedly welcome the Muslim invaders, rather they fought them. In some cases they managed to fight back against the aggressor Muslims and re-take their lands. Unfortunately, there are subjected peoples in the remaining Muslim lands who have not been able to reclaim their land and heritage. Worse yet, to this day Muslims continue to perpetrate ethnic cleansing upon non-Muslims in Egypt, Iraq, Thailand, the Philippines, India, and elsewhere.

(I love Egypt and its people are some of the finest people in the world. They were once a great and powerful people, but Islam has blinded them, choked and brought them down. The Egyptian people deserves better than what Islam has shoveled upon them.)

Islam’s religious facets of men not wearing silk do not concern me; Islam’s facets of spreading its domination by the sword does. Eating with the right hand does not concern me, murdering apostates does.

It is this primary and powerful Islamic facet, the use of violence, established by Muhammad’s command to use violence to spread Islam’s domain, that Westerners are right to worry about and they are foolish if they do not. See these articles for an in-depth examination of Islam and violence.

If the Islamic theological texts taught non-violence or violence only in self defense then the concern could be diminished. But when the foundational texts of Islam, the Quran, hadith, sira, and the corpus of Islamic jurisprudence, are taken hand in hand with Muhammad’s actions, then the use of violence to spread Islam’s rule over non-Muslims is established firmly. Of course Westerners are right to refuse, reject, and criticize a faith that poses a mortal danger!

Cesari gets to the heart of her argument:

But some Westerners see the threat from terrorists who are driven by ideology and politics as a threat from a culture and religion. Those people who were already suspicious of Islam can justify their hostility because, instead of a religion, Islam is considered an ideology emanating from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Turkey and the rest of the Muslim world to threaten the West.

What exactly is these Westerners’ mistake – to consider Islam a violent ideology? But there are Muslim terrorists who claim divine instruction to use violence to force Islam upon others. Here is such a statement:

"I have been commanded to fight against people until they testify that there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, and they establish prayer, and pay the religious tax, and if they do it, their blood and property are guaranteed protection on my behalf except when justified by law, and their affairs rest with Allah."4

This Muslim believed that Allah told him to fight, (actually make war), upon people who reject Islam! Further they had to submit to some form of Islamic rule via the Islamic strictures contained in his statement.

Perhaps this man is associated with Al-Qaeda or a similar terrorist organization?

Those of you that have studied Islam know that the man who said this was Muhammad, Islam’s creator and prophet. Muhammad’s Islam should be considered real Islam. In light of Muhammad’s statement above, (and many similar statements found in the Quran, hadith, and sira), isn’t it reasonable to view Islam as a threat to non-Muslim people? After all, God himself commanded Muhammad to fight non-Muslims until they bend the knee to his rule. If you study Muhammad’s life you’ll learn that Muhammad did his arguing with the sword and he killed, conquered, and subjected tens of thousands of people while he lived. His immediate followers killed, conquered, and subjected millions.


Cesari quotes Wilders as saying that Islam is a political ideology and not a religion:

For example, in his campaign preceding Holland's recent elections, extreme right-wing parliamentarian Geert Wilders repeatedly argued that Islam is a political ideology.

But here are quotes from Wilders’ weblog that predate Cesari’s article:

Islam deprives Muslims of their freedom. That is a shame, because free people are capable of great things, as history has shown. The Arab, Turkish, Iranian, Indian, Indonesian peoples have tremendous potential. If they were not captives of Islam, if they could liberate themselves from the yoke of Islam, if they would cease to take Muhammad as a role model and if they got rid of the evil Koran, they would be able to achieve great things which would benefit not only them but the entire world. (Source, July 2010)

Indeed, what we are speaking of when we speak about Islam is a religion whose holy book calls for the conquest of infidel-run territories in the name of Allah – a religion, that is, whose guiding beliefs leave no room for the kind of live-and-let-live mentality that Mertens and his ilk think, or pretend to think, can still be relevant in a country whose largest cities will soon have Muslim majorities. (Source, Feb 2010)

Clearly, Wilders is not proclaiming that Islam is not a religion, he is proclaiming that Islam is a religion that is multifaceted and some of those facets should be rejected.

Later, in his 2 Oct. 2010 speech in Berlin, Wilders re-affirmed his points.  He confirmed Islam is a religion and quotes several people on this theme.  Here are two:

In 1954, in his essay Communism and Islam, Professor Bernard Lewis spoke of “the totalitarianism, of the Islamic political tradition.” Professor Lewis said that “The traditional Islamic division of the world into the House of Islam and the House of War, … has obvious parallels in the Communist view of world affairs. … The aggressive fanaticism of the believer is the same.”

Abul Ala Maududi, the influential 20th century Pakistani Islamic thinker, wrote – I quote, emphasizing that these are not my words but those of a leading Islamic scholar – “Islam is not merely a religious creed [but] a revolutionary ideology and jihad refers to that revolutionary struggle … to destroy all states and governments anywhere on the face of the earth, which are opposed to the ideology and program of Islam.”

A quick search yields statements from many prominent Muslims who agree with Wilders. They also bind Islam and politics together. Here is the Ayatollah Khomeini:

When anyone studies a little or pays a little attention to the rules of Islamic government, Islamic politics, Islamic society and Islamic economy he will realize that Islam is a very political religion. Anyone who will say that religion is separate from politics is a fool; he does not know Islam or politics. (Source)

Indeed Wilders recognizes that Islam is a multifaceted and complex religion. So do many others. Is Cesari declaring that Maududi and Khomeini don’t know Islam and got it wrong?

Cesari quotes Wilders selectively in order to present his argument in a poor light. But when her statements, and the statements of those she attacks, are taken in context, it is her argument that appears in a poor light. There is something questionable, something disingenuous, about Cesari’s approach and method.

She is involved with a website, Euro-Islam, and it has the following statement in its “About us” page:

This work is undertaken with the belief that by providing thoughtful and innovative discursive frameworks, can help ensure that political, media, and intellectual discourses on Islam in the West are constructive, balanced, and worthy of the diverse and tolerant democratic civil societies from which they spring. (Source)

There is nothing constructive or balanced in Cesari’s article. Her article is mostly sophisticated name calling. Instead of “constructive, balanced” discourse taking place, we see insincerity, shallow research, and deception, supporting an attack against people who love their countries and are concerned for their people’s welfare.

The title of Cesari’s article, “Islam is a religion, not a terror ideology” errs. Islam is a very complex religion and its complexity allows, even commands, violence to spread its rule. It can be stated emphatically: Islam is a religion that encompasses politics and a terror ideology.

Muhammad intended that his followers use violence to attack, kill, conquer, and subject non-Muslims and their lands. It is his teachings, his actions, his words and deeds, i.e. the very fruit of Muhammad’s life, that established the “terror ideology” and the other forms of violence Muslims use to spread Islam’s rule.

We must go beyond the empty, fluff rhetoric, of inadequate and mendacious academicians, who suck the taxpayer’s dollars while tickling their ears. Instead, examine the foundational texts of Islam, the Quran, hadith, and biographical writings, in their contexts and intended applications, to understand Muhammad and Islam. As the West continues to fail to understand Islam we cannot but experience more 9/11s, 7/7s, and worse.

Silas 2 December, 2010



1 Mir, Mustansir, “Dictionary of Quranic Terms and Concepts”, page 36, Garland, New York, NY, 1987.

2 Although Ataturk abolished the Caliphate in 1924, the argument by various Muslim groups today, especially those that are inclined towards violence, is that some form of political rulership and/or governance is needed today. Hence the political component of Islam is still very relevant.

3 al-Misri, Ahmad, “Reliance of the Traveler”, (A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law), translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, published by Amana publications, Beltsville, Maryland, USA 1991

4 Muslim, Abu’l-Husain, “Sahih Muslim”, volume 1, number 33, International Islamic Publishing House, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 1971, translated by A. Siddiqi

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